Watch Out For The "Dirty Filter" Mechanic Scam

When we asked you to tell us your car mechanic scam stories, by far the most common mentioned was “dirty air filter trick.” The mechanic shows the customer a dirty air filter and charges them for the part and installation. The trick? it’s actually a prop filter they keep around to snooker unwary drivers.

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  1. BanzaiBrittany says:

    My dad’s (who used to be a mechanic and whose brother still is) advice has always been, that when you’re told there is a problem with your vehicle, ask to be walked out to the garage and shown the problem. If they refuse, go somewhere else. A reputable mechanic will show it to you and explain the problem. A sneaky one will refuse every time.

    • Loias supports harsher punishments against corporations says:

      There are far too many instances where showing me the problem doesn’t actually help me understand what the problem is. If you’re not car-savvy and know what the parts look like when not broken, seeing them broken doesn’t help.

      • XianZhuXuande says:

        But asking *does* help to eliminate a great deal of fraud regardless of what you do or do not understand. And beyond this, using some basic reasoning you can actually deduct a little simply from the explanation and the way in which the mechanic delivers it. Having no understanding of a subject does not mean you should hide from it.

      • pop top says:

        Yes but their point is that if they refuse to show you, they’re probably lying. At least if they’re willing to point out the exact problem and explain it in depth they are on the level somewhat.

      • Aaronjk says:

        And if you still don’t understand what they were explaining get a second opinion. If the second mechanic says the same thing is wrong you can be pretty sure. The best thing is to make them explain in English. Just like the IT need to explain computers.

        • the Persistent Sound of Sensationalism says:

          I take exception to that IT remark. If it’s your work computer, IT doesn’t actually need to explain anything unless the problem was caused by you because you to not own the computer. Most of the time, an accurate explanation from IT will require some education on your part that an IT guy is not willing to teach you.

          You own your car. Like a home computer, it’s wise to read the manual. You don’t need to be a mechanic to know your way around a car, and you don’t need to be an IT guy to know your way around a computer.

          • speedwell (propagandist and secular snarkist) says:

            Look, loser. I am a professional IT support person and trainer. Believe me, there is no percentage in keeping the user base illiterate and ignorant. Ignorant users are frustrated and ineffective, and they hate the program and they hate you for being a fucking geek snob. The only excuse you can possibly have for arguing that users have no right to an explanation is because you are afraid that informed users won’t need you anymore and your job security will be threatened.

            Trust me. You will not run out of user issues. If you do, because you have addressed all possible user issues past, present, and future, every IT manager in the world will want you to be captured and dissected. Informed users are simply happier, more productive, more effective employees.

            Oh, and what was your name a gain? I want to make sure I NEVER work for you or with you. Toxic, adversarial attitudes like yours do not belong in an enterprise that takes IT seriously.

            • mewyn dyner says:

              Honestly, being former IT, you have to pick your battles. Many of the users don’t care or don’t want to know. They just want to get on with their work so they can go home. When I helped users, I’d just fix it and then ask if they had questions when done. If they wanted to know what I did, I’d explain concisely.

              Then there are the users that you have to take care to give the right kernels of knowledge, because if you give them the wrong bits of knowledge they quickly become the kind of use who knows just enough to start messing things up worse. These are the users that I’d typically handle with kid gloves to try and keep myself sane in the long run.

            • BobOki says:

              I agree with this comment. If I train my users what they did, how they did it, and what the issue is, then one, they don’t do it again, and two they can better explain what the actual issue is next time. “It stopped working I didn’t do anything” gets old quickly.

    • Julia789 says:

      They always say “Insurance Regulations prevent us from allowing you into the shop.” It’s their comeback.

      And possibly true. Insurance companies probably don’t want customers back there. I suppose it depends on their policy.

      But tough luck for them. I’d ask them to pull it out in the lot and show me. Otherwise I change it when the manual suggests.

      • chocolate1234 says:

        My husband works for a large auto-insurance company, and he always asks the mechanic to actually show him the part in his car. I think it’s a line they might try to give to trick people, because at least his company would encourage customers to go back and look.

        • Julia789 says:

          Yeah the dealership always welcomed me into the shop to look at the work, but the oil change place never let me back there. I suspect it’s because they were doing that air filter scam.

          • freelunch says:

            most oil change type places have provisions in their insurance policies that cover ONLY employees in the pits (underground), but aside from that, it is 90% B.S.

    • BobOki says:

      I always take this a step further, having been screwed before. When you get ANY work done on your car, regardless of what it is, ask for the old parts back. The guarantees they will actually do the work, and you would be surprised how often they suddenly have to admit the part you paid for, with labor, was not actually changed. Serpentine belts are a common one.

  2. Nigerian prince looking for business partner says:

    I’d be surprised if an actual mechanic pulled this trick. This is more along the lines of a lube shop tech trying to make extra commission or a quickie lube making up for their $19.99 oil change specials.

    • Rachacha says:

      I have had dealerships do this, but worded differently, for example:

      I drop my vehicle off for an oil change and some other unrelated warrantee repairs. They call me to advise me what is wrong, the estimated time to complete the repair and the results of their “400 point check of your vehicle” which includes checking tire pressure, fluid levels, air filter, brake pad measurements etc. When they call, they will say ” you are at 15341 miles. The factory maintenance schedule recommends that your tires be rotated, your air filter be replaced and your coolant system be flushed, would you like us to perform that factory recommended service?”

      I respond “No thanks, I changed the air filter myself last weekend, and you guys replaced the coolant last month when you repaied the hole in my radiator”

      Notice they don’t indicate that the components or fluids in your car need to be replaced, only that the factory recommends that these things be replaced at certain intervals

      • B says:

        Ok, the coolant thing was kinda scammy, but the filter must have been ready to replace if you did it the previous weekend, and the manufacturer does recommend having the tires rotated, so why is it a scam?

        • Merricat says:

          If there is a new filter in the car, it’s fairly evident. It’s not as if a dirty one and a ‘clean’ one look the same.

      • jesirose says:

        Your last sentence explains why it’s not a scam. They aren’t telling you it needs to be done, just that the manual says to do it. They’d probably get in trouble for NOT telling you that service is recommended.

  3. Hungry Dog says:

    I think they mechanic replaced that one with my air filter. When I went to change it out later it looked like a birds nest was stuck in there.

  4. HoJu says:

    I thought about this last time I was at my local Valvoline place getting my oil done. I saw them remove the filter (through the crack in my opened hood) and bring it over to me. They’re not ALL trying to scam you, apparently.

    • 3skr1mad0r says:

      Always watch them perform the service on your car. Most waiting rooms have clear view to the shop floor and you may even learn how to do some of these regular maintenance services yourself.

      • craptastico says:

        if nothing else having you peer over them may encourage to keep them honest. for all they know you’re good with cars.

      • HoJu says:

        You seem to think that 1) I don’t know how to do this myself and 2) that I want to.

    • MB17 says:

      Well, they’re still sort of trying to scam you. All air filters get dirty. I’ve had places try to convince by to buy a new filter after I had it replaced just last oil change. They like to show you your air filter compared to a brand-spanking new one, which irritates me beyond belief. Of course my air-filter isn’t pristine–it’s been in a running engine the past 4k. They do the same thing with fluids.

  5. Loias supports harsher punishments against corporations says:

    Can we have a “Watch Out For The _______ Mechanic Scam” series?

  6. TouchMyMonkey says:

    I told my son I put a K&R filter in his car. Every 50,000 miles, he has to take it out, wash and oil it, and put it back in. Good for a million miles.

    • jvanbrecht says:

      K&N…..

    • dolemite says:

      I don’t think the K&N filters do that good of a job of…filtering though.

      Sure, they block the big particles, but the small ones that regular filters catch pass right on through. It was barely better than having nothing at all, especially right after you wash it.

    • Ducatisti says:

      K&N filters are great in the correct application – namely racing. Typical paper-style filters will keep particles smaller than 3 microns from entering your intake, K&N filters to 5 microns. The difference between those two doesn’t sound like much, but your valves and pistons know the difference. We always see more wear on the valve train and intake sides of pistons from engines running K&N filters than those running good quality OEM-style filters.
      Now, if you’re talking an off-road race application – that’s a different ballgame – in dirty, dusty situations a K&N doesn’t ever clog. Standard style filters do. Pro teams don’t care about engine life (as long as it lasts to the checkered flag), everything’s getting replaced after the race anyway.

      • Jfielder says:

        You also forgot to mention Mass Air Flow Sensor death caused by oil particles released by the gauze in the filter. Tiny oil drops will stick to the fine wire in the sensor and cause it to fry itself. All that money you saved on replacement filters was in vain, since a new sensor is anywhere from 60-300 dollars.

    • ScandalMgr says:

      Look for the video on youtube of a mechanic pouring salt on a K&N, and having it fall through the filter.

  7. njack says:

    Changing the air filter is so easy I just tell them I will change it myself. What they charge to replace your air filter is highway robbery.

    • Aaronjk says:

      That’s what I thought too. Till I was at one of these places and they offered to change the filter in my Corolla for $14. I said “nah, I’ll go ahead and do it”. Went to WalMart and the filter cost $13.50!

      • 3skr1mad0r says:

        I have run into the same thing. Since these places buy in bulk, a lot of times their price is a very low difference from going out and buying it yourself. Of course this depends on where you are going. I have even seen it cheaper to get it done at the shop if you compare prices to a store just dealing in auto parts.

      • apd09 says:

        I second that. I told Jiffy Lube I would do it myself and the filter cost as much as the service. I said from now on the place can do it since it is about the same as doing it myself.

    • c_c says:

      Yep it’s one of the handful of car maintenance things I can actually do myself.

    • Bohemian says:

      One of the first things my dad taught me when I had my first car was how to change the air filter. That was after how to check the oil and that I damn well better check it every time I filled up the car.

  8. Anathema777 says:

    Boch Honda pulled this kind of thing with me. I’d had them replace my air filter previously. 3 months later when I went in for an oil change, they told me I needed to change it again. I asked why they needed to change it so soon and, instead of answering, the guy pulled out a picture of an air filter and started to explain to me what it did. Sort of. He pointed to the picture and said, “this is the air filter; it filters the air in the car.”

    So I don’t go there any more (only went in the first place because I was was getting things fixed that were either under warranty or part of a recall).

    • Julia789 says:

      I had a tech show me the dirty filter and say “This is what you’re breathing.” I replied “Actually, that is what I’m NOT breathing!”

      • Hoss says:

        If it was your cabin air filter, then he would be correct

        • eyesack is the boss of the DEFAMATION ZONE says:

          Well…no, it was filtered out.

          • Firethorn says:

            As a bonus; a dirty air filter actually works BETTER than a clean one; you only have to replace them because eventually they clog to the point of impeding the air flow too much*. As long as the air flow is still good, you’re fine.

            *Can be a little more tricky with fancy activated charcoal and electrostatic filters.

        • Julia789 says:

          Nah, the filter was full of the stuff I didn’t breathe! It did its job very well :-)

    • midtower says:

      Changing air filters… Always an easy project for the car owner and one I probably perform too frequently.

      During a routine maintenance visit just yesterday, my local Honda dealer tried- yet again- to have them change the cabin and engine air filters; $87 and $65, respectively.

      I declined. One ‘Advance Auto Parts’ and $30 later, it’s all good.

      • midtower says:

        I neglected to note that my car’s cabin filter is located immediately behind the glove-box, as opposed to other cars sometimes requiring some steps to access…. which only added further to the “they’re only trying to screw the customer” sentiment.

  9. Arcaeris says:

    Another scam which I didn’t mention last time is the “fuel injection cleaning.” My coworker took her car in for a recall repair from Honda and the dealership gave her a laundry list of items that “needed immediate repair.” Two of which were fuel injector cleaning ($130) and replacing discolored headlight plastic covers ($180).

    Thankfully, she talked to someone about this first and declined the services.

    • Julia789 says:

      That and the “engine flush” which I’ve heard can seriously damage your car. It should apparently only be done in rare cases or under certain circumstances, it should not be “routine” like the oil change places push for. Can’t find the darned article about it.

      • Arcaeris says:

        Right, transmission fluid in modern cars is not meant to be changed that often, if at all. If they do that pressure flush, it can cause all kinds of damage.

    • tinmanx says:

      D’oh! I just had this “fuel injection cleaning” done at Honda. I always see these commercials about build up on fuel injectors, and since I’ve never done it for 35k I figure it’s necessary. Oh well, sucks to not know anything about cars.

    • Scoobatz says:

      Although, you never want to wait too long to top off the headlight fluid, especially if you have halogens. I think it’s worth the $69 service fee I pay every 6 months.

      Wait… what’s that, you say?

  10. Hongfiately says:

    My wife got nailed by the “worn oil plug” trick a couple of years ago when she took my truck to the local Mobile 1 Lube Express. Only problem is the aftermarket replacement they sold her was either not installed properly or a bad fit and within 24 hours, there was no oil in my truck. I thought something catastrophic was wrong — and there could have been, but thankfully I caught it in time to take it to the dealership and I was fixed in about five minutes. When I went in to complain to the manager, I got a shrug and a promise that the owner would be calling me to make it right. That never happened, so I figured simply telling the story to others was worth more to me than anything they could offer in return.

  11. Applekid ┬──┬ ノ( ゜-゜ノ) says:

    Hmmm… that picture looks pretty dirty. B)

  12. madtube says:

    This was a deal that I vehemently opposed in my shop. If a customer needs to see a dirty filter, they see their filter, not one that is floating around. The only exception was the HVAC filters. On a few models, there were quite a few steps involved to get to the cabin filter. Only then would we show what a dirty cabin filter would look like. We did specify that the filter they were seeing was not theirs. All in all, it was a matter of common sense. As I have stated many times before, I only recommended something if it actually needed it; not if it was time for it or to make some money on a job. That rule is the most important credo for my customers. I would rather make a few less honest dollars than to screw someone over to get the most money out of a job.

    • Bativac says:

      My mechanic is the same way. He’s the first to tell us whether we need to worry about getting something fixed or whether it still has a little life left in it to keep us going (safely of course).

      It’s a shame a few lousy mechanics spoil the bunch. And for the record I will never take my vehicles to Firestone for anything but purchasing tires. I don’t want them under the hood or anyplace else but the wheels.

    • tungstencoil says:

      Where is your shop?! I’d be a customer for sure.

      • madtube says:

        Unfortunately, I am no longer in the business. Due to a series of bad circumstances I have to get my lower spine fused. I am due to have my spinal surgery the day after my 30th birthday. Happy Birthday to me; Yay!

        Seriously though, after I get my spinal surgery, have my rehab, and get back into the work force, I will let the masses know where I set up shop.

    • madtube says:

      To everybody that has sought my assistance in automotive advice, I have been having some medical issues lately. If you sent me an email and I have not replied to you yet, my apologies. I have been going through my spam filter and found a couple of inquiries. Over the next couple of days I am gonna make sure that everyone that asked for my help will get an answer from me.

    • egoods says:

      Glad another auto repair employee chimed in on this. I grew up in the automotive industry, but more recently I’ve been a service manager for almost a year now at a large national chain, before that I was a service writer for 4 months, and assistant manager for 2 monts. The auto-repair business gets a bad wrap, it’s really too bad because quite honestly the good, honest shops greatly outweigh the scam artists. I pride myself in the fact that my regular customers come in, drop off there keys, and tell me they trust my judgement and to go ahead and repair what ever needs to be fixed, no questions asked. For a shady shop a customer doing that is a gold mine, but for me I know I have to sleep at night, and I wouldn’t be able to sleep soundly if I was taking advantage of customers. I also make it a point to teach all of my mechanics and writers how to translate a cars problem into lay terms. The easiest way of explaining a problem is to physically show it, but there are people who don’t have the time to come to the shop, so being able to illustrate and issue over the phone is key. I want my customers to know exactly what was done to there vehicle, my shop has nothing to hide, and so long as you’re wearing safety glasses and have an employee escorting you you’re more then welcome to walk into the service bay and look at your car.

      I also thought I’d add a little bit of consumer advice to this ramble.
      You catch more bees with honey then you do with vinegar. Nothing makes me want to just make a customer go away more then when they storm in, and immediately start accusing us of doing shoddy work or installing something improperly. Mistakes happen, especially in the volume I deal with (40+ customers a day), and if there’s an issue I’ll do my best to make it right, but if you’re difficult to deal with, and hurl insults before I’ve even had a chance to look at the car to address the issue I’m much more inclined to hand you your keys and tell you to take the car someplace else. I understand being upset, but yelling, cursing, or otherwise being rude and offensive won’t get you far. If you want to get the problem solved quickly, and with the least amount of hassle it really pays to understand where we’re coming from.

      @madtube if you’d like me to tackle some of the emails for you I’d be more then happy to. Just drop me a line.

  13. lucky13 says:

    It’s common practice for lube shops to try to upsell a new air filter for twice the cost of doing it yourself (reputable shops won’t do this). I just check mine (and replace if necessary) before taking my vehicles in for oil changes. Replacing the air filter is the second easiest thing ANYONE can do with their car – the first being filling the gas tank.

  14. denros says:

    Never had them try this on me, probably because I have an aftermarket intake with K&N filter. I’ve kinda hoped they’d try though, just for kicks.

  15. mcs328 says:

    Had this happen at Jiffy Lube. He said I needed an new air filter. I showed him the receipt I had in my pocket when I replaced it last week. Doh!!

  16. donovanr says:

    My favorite that happened to my father was they(the dealer) over filled the transmission fluid. The car then leaked the fluid here and there and we brought it back. They(the dealer) said that the transmission was shot with an estimated repair of $2000. I thought it was stupid to go to a dealer repair place anyway so we went to my favorite place. They said that there was too much fluid in the transmission and when it got warm it would overflow. They drained a bit out and 5 years later the car is still working fine.

    But the best part was that the dealer said that they couldn’t legally allow us to drive off with the car in such bad shape. I lied and said I was a lawyer and that they were making crap up. (my lie trumps your lie)

    • oldwiz65 says:

      Auto dealers are among the least trustworthy places to have your car repaired. You go in for routine oil change and they call you and say you need $500 worth of emergency repairs. Find a mechanic who knows what he is doing and let him take care of the car unless it’s a recall or warranty repair. Auto deler repairs are about as trustworthy as car salespersons.

    • BeerFox says:

      My favorite response to the ‘Legally, we can’t let you leave’ line is:
      “So I’m clear…are you kidnapping me, or just stealing my car?”

  17. calico says:

    I’m in the “if your mechanic can’t/won’t show you exactly what’s wrong on your car, go somewhere else” camp. I have a 27 year old BMW which had to go into the shop a couple times this year. Each time I went in, my mechanic took me back to the garage and walked me through the problems, showing me everything. Not only do I find that fun, but it’s helped me become more familiar with my own car and diagnosing simple issues that I can fix myself. Also, as a younger female, I like that he doesn’t talk down to me or assume I won’t understand.

    • dolemite says:

      You have a strange idea of fun.

      “Well, let me bring you back and show you the problems…looks like your CV joint is busted…that’s $500…ummm, also have a crack in your manifold, $1,200…looks like your AC wiring shorted out, $280…”

      “I can’t stand the excitement!”

      • calico says:

        Typically I have a pretty good idea of what the problem is beforehand. One of my issues was a master cylinder failure. I’d noticed the pedal was going soft, but for whatever reason I never took it in… which lead to a fun no brakes at 40 mph situation. Thankfully it’s a manual so I could at least downshift myself until the last little bit of brake pressure could stop me.

        I guess to some it might be a strange idea of fun… I’m a grad student in the sciences though, so seeing how things work is a good time for me. My bank account may not be happy about it, but it’s nice to get a little extra knowledge out of the situation.

  18. RanChan03 says:

    NTB tried that on me, i told them yea, i already knew about my airfilter and i will change it later. Give me my oil change :)

  19. kwheel596 says:

    I had this happen to me recently. They brought me an air filter and said “This one is really dirty we went ahead and changed it for you at XX.XX that’s about a 35% discount to what it normally would”. The air filter they brought looked like the one in the picture up there, the only problem I had with the situation was about a month before that I had put in a brand new K&N filter…which obviously doesn’t look anything like they one they brought me.

  20. Mom says:

    Jiffy Lube tried to pull this on me once. I have no idea whether it was my filter or a scuzzy one they had stashed. To the uninitiated like me, every air filter looks dirty. But I knew that the air filter had just been changed a couple of months before, so I told them I’d take care of it myself, and never went back.

    Their loss.

  21. trailerpark1976 says:

    Just like anything else, knowing a little bit goes a long way. The more you know about how your car works and what it’s maintenance needs are the better off you’ll be. I work at a Nissan dealership (parts dept) and anytime a customer wants to see the part we took off, or the car itself we take them out into the shop and show them. There’s also a big window in the waiting room where you can see every car being worked on.

    If you don’t understand the repairs or what’s being done to your car and why make the service writer (or whoever you’re dealing with) explain it in a way that you do understand. If needs be escalate it to the service manager.

  22. UltimateOutsider says:

    The thing to look out for at oil changing places is when they take the filter out of your car, walk into the back office, and then return with what is allegedly your filter and a new one for comparison. You don’t have to be a magician to do that sleight of hand. I am going to start tagging my filters as an experiment to see if I can catch someone in the act.

    • Michaela says:

      I was thinking the same thing. At the moment, I live close enough to my parents to drive back every couple of months and let my step-father do my car maintenance (he has been a mechanic for decades). When I leave though, I am totally tagging my filters.

    • Firethorn says:

      I wonder if some of them keep a bag of vacuum dust to shake onto the filters…

  23. Ducatisti says:

    Best ways to keep from getting scammed by a dishonest mechanic?
    1. Have a basic understanding of how a car engine works, and what is required to keep it running properly.

    2. Know what most of the replaceable components on your car look like (air filters, oil filters, wiper blades, etc.) so you can identify if the shop is trying to install an incorrect part, or trying to show you a broken gizmo that’s not from your car.

    3. When taking the car a new mechanic, don’t just drop it off and tell them you’ll pick it up later, stay and watch them work. As mentioned earlier, ask to see the problem, and have the mechanic show you the parts needing replacement. If a shop doesn’t have a window from the lobby into the work bays, take the car somewhere that does.

    4. After discussing the problem, ask the mechanic what they would do if it were their own vehicle, an honest mechanic may tell you the cost of the fix isn’t worth it, or may give you other options that you wouldn’t think of yourself. If you’re still uncomfortable, take it to a different shop for a second opinion.

    5. Once you find a good shop, stick with them, even if it takes longer to get your car back. Good shops will be busy and take time – bad ones usually aren’t, and won’t!

    6. Don’t go in to a situation thinking that all mechanics are out to rip you off. Most are honest and hard-working folks who really want to fix the problem right the first time. Unfortunately, usually by the time the car showing symptoms bad enough to take to the shop there’s more than one thing wrong. Even the best mechanic might find and fix one or two of the causes the first time around, but miss the third. It’s not their fault, cars are extremely complex animals and one symptom could be caused by dozens of things.

  24. SonarTech52 says:

    One time I was getting my blinker fluid changed and they tried to tell me that I needed air filters changed also… but I had just gone the week before to get an oil change, and they did the air filters then..

    • misterfuss says:

      Blinker fluid? WTF?

      • shepd says:

        I think he meant headlight fluid, and that he was there to get the second transmission fixed, too. I hear the garage uses a skyhook to lift the car. Too bad the customer has to go for a long weight because they didn’t have one in stock (that along with the muffler bearings… *sigh*). Stupid foreign cars requiring metric everything, even the adjustable wrench!

      • Evil_Otto would rather pay taxes than make someone else rich says:

        It’s a joke.

      • SonarTech52 says:

        :)

  25. dadelus says:

    When they pulled this trick on my was when I quit taking my car to Jiffylube. I drove a fuel injected car that had a rectangular filter. They showed me a one of the circle style filters you would expect to see in a carbourated engine and tried to tell me it was my filter.

    I asked them to take me out to my car and show me how that filter fit on my engine and said that their manager should be present for the demo. I got a free oil change and never went back to one of those scam shops again.

    • pixiegirl says:

      I had the same thing happen to me at a local quickie oil change shop. I know very little about what’s under the hood but I actually bought one with my dad and changed it a few years ago. So I knew that the circle air filter couldn’t fit in my car. I asked them how they pulled out a circle air filter out of my car cause when iinstalled it, it was a rectangle very loudly in front of other customers. They had a ” oh shit” look on their face and pretty much ended that conversation and I never went back.

    • catastrophegirl chooses not to fly says:

      after something like that i wouldn’t have let them change my oil either

  26. KrispyKrink says:

    Myself and everyone I know do our own vehicle work, always have since we were kids. The one exception was about 10 years ago while on the road in another state and needed a belt replaced and re-timed. After the mechanic did that repair job he actually tried this air filter trick on me.

    Me: That can’t be my truck’s filter
    Him: It is!
    Me: No, it’s not! For one it’s 1 size too small and secondly it doesn’t have my initials and date of installation on it in purple Sharpie.
    Him: Beet Red face…

    • BK88 says:

      That is the best!!! I will do that next time!

      • KrispyKrink says:

        Mark your oil filter too. If you’re a bit messy and slick up the filter and sharpie wont stay, etch it into the paint. I’ve known some people that used to go to those oil change places only to find later on the oil filter was never actually replaced.

        Those places also claim to top-off the windshield cleaner fluid, and some never do. Eyeball the reservoir before you head in to make sure they do.

  27. Tomas says:

    One shop I go to has “security cameras” on all the service bays and you can watch your car being worked on in the waiting lounge.

    One of the best ideas I’ve seen.

  28. evilpete says:

    slightly dirty filters work better then new clean filters.

  29. jimstoic says:

    Wouldn’t the proper response be, “Thanks! I’ll head over to [local auto parts dealer] and replace that”? Air filters are about the easiest thing there is to replace.

  30. badb! says:

    I’ve been a dealership mechanic for 19 years and have never heard of this being done.
    But I live in the midwest and most shops here are honest, IMHO.

  31. ellemdee says:

    Not sure if this is a national or state law, but in MI, the shop has to let you take any replaced parts or at least examine them if you request to do so. The theory is that this would prevent shops from saying they replaced something that they didn’t or replacing good parts just to charge you more. Most people won’t care about the old parts, but they have to give you the option. However, dishonest shops will still find away around this.

    When I was in college, I drove a car with no heat. In below-zero weather. The defrost worked – a little – but no heat. I couldn’t afford the repair at the time, but I really needed to be able to feel my hands when I was driving, so I took my car to a Dodge dealer and told them the blower motor went bad and needed to be replaced. After looking at the car, they called insisting that “the computer” (not the blower motor) in my car was bad. It was a $600 part, but I had to have heat in my car at that point, so I told them to go ahead. Of course, that didn’t fix the problem and they eventually did have to replace the blower motor (what I originally requested to be replaced) to get the heat to work. They still insisted that “the computer” really did need to be replaced, even though it didn’t fix the problem. I couldn’t afford to have them hold my car while I fought with them over the bill because I had to be able to get to school, so I paid the bill and asked for the old ‘puter back since I knew that something was up. My dad worked at Chrysler and took it in to their labs to be tested by the engineers there. Surprise, surprise, it worked just fine. Armed with this info, I returned to the dealer requesting a refund for the parts and labor associated with replacing the non-defective computer and they said that wasn’t the same part they took out of my car (claiming to remember stupid little details like how the S/N sticker was positioned) and accused me of trying to scam them by taking a computer out of a car at a junkyard and claiming it came out of my car. I wasn’t looking to sue and I wasn’t even looking for an apology – I just wanted the money back and figured they’d own up once faced with evidence that the part was still good, but I was wrong. I was even willing to let them save face by saying “I understand that mistakes happen sometimes, but I just want the money back now that I’ve proven the old part wasn’t bad”. I filed a complaint with the Secretary of State and, after months of “investigation”, was told that I said he was lying and he said I was lying, so there was nothing they could do, case closed. The moral of the story is to have the dealer/mechanic *SIGN* any returned parts if you think you’re going to have a fight on your hands and perhaps even write the serial number (if available) of the replaced part of your receipt and have them sign that as well. The kicker is that the heat still didn’t work very well and I was out an extra $600.

    Shortly after this incident, my family bought 3 new vehicles and we would have purchased them through that dealer if they hadn’t ripped me off. They’re closed now, so I like to think karma got ‘em.

  32. ellemdee says:

    I really wish I could find an good, honest mechanic. The last place I tried was just supposed to change the oil and ended up making me sit there for almost 2 hours while they performed an unsolicited “courtesy instection” and told me I need $400 worth of unrelated repairs. “Your belts are about to snap”…”Your tie rod is bent”…”Your car isn’t safe to drive”…”Boy oh boy are you lucky you made it to us in time”. I had two other shops look at it and they both said nothing was wrong. The sad thing is that this probably works with a lot of people who panic when they’re told they’re driving a ticking time bomb.

    • freelunch says:

      I had a shop try and tell me that my battery was in such bad condition that it wouldn’t take a charge any more…. I told them this was all B.S., and that the battery was still operating within the designed range.

      The guy swore to me that I wouldn’t have enough charge to make it to work the next day.

      you know how this story ends.

  33. MrEvil says:

    I had an oil change place pull this shit on me. However, the joke was on those fuckers. I had a K&N re-usable air cleaner installed in my car which looks completely different from the paper element ones, also it only needs cleaning which I can do myself with a $10 kit from O’Reilley that’ll last me a long while.

  34. raleel says:

    I had this happen once. Offered to me. I had changed the filter _the day before_.

    Never went back again. It was at the Mister Car Wash (and lube place) on Deschutes and Columbia Center.

  35. jayelle says:

    Reading all these stories just confirms how lucky I am to have a good, honest mechanic. (Phil’s Toy Store in Cary, NC, for those of you in the area; I’m not a shill, I swear.) They only work on Toyota and Lexus, and Phil and Wayne know everything about them, including when we might be able to get service cheaper elsewhere.

    Once we took our Sienna in to Phil’s because the check engine light came on. Turned out we had a cracked head gasket, and it was going to be expensive. But Phil called us up and said, “Your model was part of a recall, you need to take it to the dealer and they’ll do it for free.” We did, they did, and Phil saved us a bundle when he could easily have fixed it himself and charged us the $1k or whatever.

    They also routinely let us know when it’s “almost time” for routine maintenance — they’ll say, “You should probably budget for a new serpentine belt sometime in the next year, here’s how much it costs, let us know when you’re ready.” No pressure, just useful information that helps us manage our money and avoid those “how am I going to pay for this?” moments. And they also occasionally come in below their original quote — if they think it’s going to take 4 hours and it only takes 3.5, they charge us for…3.5. What a concept!

  36. elliemae says:

    I went to a well-known lube shop in Las Vegas; the “technician” called me out to discuss my dirty air filter. She had opened a new one and sat it on my engine – but the problem was that the one they were trying to sell me was the wrong model for my car (they didn’t show me the dirty one, which had recently been changed). When I mentioned both issues, she was surprised that I knew the difference. Needless to say, I won’t go back there ever again.

  37. physics2010 says:

    They need to keep their dirty hands off my K&N

  38. kenposan says:

    I take my cars to Valvoline and have never had these kinds of issues. I sit in the car and watch them pull the air filter. In fact, last two times I’ve been there they’ve said it is fine.

    I took a car in once and they told me I had an oil leak. They topped me off at no charge and only said, “please remember us when you need an oil change”

  39. JulesNoctambule says:

    One thing I’ve always liked about our mechanics is their willingness — bordering on eagerness, actually — to let us come and watch the car be worked on while they explain each step, should we express any interest at all in finding out how a particular fix is done. When we took our most recent car in for a minor AC fix, it didn’t need to go in the bay so I was able to get right under the hood, too!

  40. Shadowman615 says:

    Another scam is they’ll show you your dirty PCV valve and tell you it needs replacing. PCV valves always get dirty, and that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s bad unless it’s clogged. What you really want to do is shake it up and make sure the parts are moving around in it. It’s a cheap part (like $2 if you buy it yourself) but you’ll probably pay a mechanic around $20 to replace it for you.

  41. sopmodm14 says:

    yea, delta sonic was the only spot that mentioned it to me…i was a 1st timer, so i got caught, but since then, i replaced it myself……the first time, was the first time it was brought to my attention, but i owned the car for 2 yrs, so i could’ve been plausible….costs me $30…..second time around, they pulled it out for me, and showed/told me it was dirty, not too bad, and to consider replacing it next time i got a car service/wash (upsell, not a scam)

    then i youtubed how to do it, bought the filter at pep boys

  42. somedaysomehow says:

    How does one find a mechanic they can trust? I’ve been looking for one for years, and I always seem to end up with the scammers…

    Last time I was at the shop to get something done they told me it was time for an oil change. I said “It’s only been 3,000 miles, my manual says 5,000.” He mumbled something about that’s if it’s fully synthetic oil. He then said my oil was “very dirty” and then showed me one of their “sample tubes” that “looked like my oil does.” He then tried to tell me it had actually been way more than 3,000 miles, more like 6,000, and I said that no, I’d had it changed 3,000 miles ago. He said “Well, couldn’t have been here!” When I told him that not only was it here but the sticker was still on the top left of my windshield showing they had changed it 3,000 miles ago he said something about not having entered it into their computer correctly.

    I want to think this shop is honest, as they saved me some big bucks one time (the mechanic there apparently is really good with welding, and fixed something I’d damaged by welding it instead of replacing it and saved me hundreds of dollars), but with that conversation… I’m guessing I should move on?

    How do you find a good shop? I’ve asked friends and relatives and NO ONE has any recommendations!

  43. Wary Consumer says:

    My significant other — one of the true honest auto repair managers/service writers in the business — is familiar with another scam that a former employee used to pull to drive up his numbers (sadly, this employee is currently employed with a competitor and continues to use this scam).

    In a spray bottle that has a concoction with oil and two other fluids, the service writer will spray the underside of a car in, say, for an oil change. After the oil has been placed in strategic spots, the manager will then call the customer in to take a look, indicating that their rings are leaking or some other problem has occurred, requiring thousands of dollars of repair work. However, instead of actually repairing anything, he’d then spray the bottom of the car again with brake clean and return the vehicle to the customer, with the problem ‘solved’ since the ‘leak’ has stopped.

    If a mechanic says you’re leaking oil and you aren’t actively putting in additional oil in your car, you should be skeptical. You can buy your own can of brake clean, clear up any actual oil on the bottom of your car, and check for leaks later in the same week. Indications should be obvious and you can perform this in your own driveway.

  44. Not a Fan Boy says:

    I’m not sure that’s what he was trying to say… the way I read the comment he was just stating that if you don’t own the piece of equipment then you don’t have the right to stop someone else from doing their job until they explain what they are doing to the computer. If it is a personal computer however you have every right to ask the tech to explain what they will be doing and how much it’ll cost.

    Having said that, I agree with you totally an informed user is a happy user but if a computer is broken I’ve found that fixing the problem is the fastest way to make them happy and of course I answer as many of there questions as I can.

  45. mattopia says:

    Even if your air filter DOES need changed, it’s really very easy – and much cheaper – to do yourself. The engine air filter is almost always in a snap-off bay and will have a large hose going into it. Your car’s manual will tell you where it’s at and how to do it, and Wal Mart, Autozone, etc will have the part and help you find the right one for your car. I think most Autozone stores will change it for you for free.

    When I had my 30k maintenance done, I told them to skip the air filters (engine and cabin), and they lowered the price by over $150. I stopped at an auto parts store on my way home, bought both filters for about $45, and replaced them both myself in the parking lot in about 5 minutes.

  46. sodium says:

    This is why I change my own air filter, and I don’t go to places like Jiffy/EZ Lube because they are the scum of the mechanic earth.

  47. peebozi says:

    i wish everyone would stop blaming corporations for trying to earn every penny they can. if they charge you for a new air filter, but don’t actually replace it, that’s virtually PURE PROFIT…and after all, isn’t that what america’s about?!

  48. JayPhat says:

    I used to be the manager of a Tire and Libe Express. This and wiper replacement were one of the two things we pushed heavily to our customers because of the high margain associated with the parts. That being said, I nor my people never, and I stress the NEVER tried to have someone change something on their vehicle that didn’t need replacing. Typically when we said their filter needed replaced, we would show it to them, especially when they thing looked like it was pulled out of a tree. Honesty towards your customer will make them return customers.

  49. greatish.ten says:

    All of these mechanic scam this, mechanic scam that… is only making my job as a service writer more difficult, honestly.

    Most shops don’t pull shit like this because it just wastes time and isn’t very profitable (we don’t even charge labor for small jobs like installing wiper blades or air filters because they’re easy and quick, 14 bucks for a air filter isn’t a whole lot of money made compared to say, replacing a head gasket) and yet you still get people these days (every day) accusing me of who knows what. (And I’m not even a technician!)

    Or how about the story the other way? I get customers in here all the time expecting free diagnostics and other things like that because we supposedly broke their car. Usually on systems that were not even worked on! just because we did an oil change on their car we owe them a diagnostic explaination to why their air conditioning system doesn’t work. (It needed a simple H134 recharge.) I would say about of quarter of all new customers feel this way because of the attitudes of ‘consumer advisors’ telling them about all the mechanics that just want to steal your money.

    Mechanics know that things break all the time and need maintenence all the time regardless of how reliable the brand might be. There is enough money out there just fixing these things that, espeically our shop, doesn’t need to resort to underhanded tactics like no performing work paid for or recommending non needed services.

  50. Winteridge2 says:

    Aww, the quickie oil change folks have been doing this for years. “We checked your transmission fluid, no charge, and just look at this black gunk! We can replace it now while your car is on the rack for only $49.95″ (or whatever). Umm, thanks, no, I like it that way. bye.